When asked, “How do you write?” I invariably answer, “one word at a time.”
I started reading Stephen King’s books in high school. That’s probably late to the game compared to a lot of horror readers and writers, but my choices in reading material came from a very small public library. My mom read Jean Auel and my dad read Joseph Wambaugh, but there was no horror to be found in my house. Once I read Firestarter, a whole new world opened up. I spent one entire summer reading nothing but his books . . . Pet Sematary, Carrie, The Shining, Misery. Nothing by King escaped me.
I read while working at a state park, mostly by myself, in a tiny hut next to a huge, dark lake. To this day, the memory of reading It while watching storms come in over the water is enough to give me chills. I deliberately terrified myself that summer and loved every minute. Stephen King became my gateway drug to an obsession with horror and a love of graphic mystery.
After the summer was over and I went back to school and the related required reading, I had less time for terror, but whenever I went to the library, I found something by King that I hadn’t seen before. His works were everywhere. Everywhere! I was struck then by how prolific he was, how many words seemed to pour from his brain so quickly and how he connected so deeply with his readers. Everything he writes feels like an exploration, and I sensed, even as a teenager, that the exploration came through because the writer felt it as well.
So how has he maintained both the exhilaration of new experiences and his enormous word count? It’s almost counterintuitive to think a writer could have both.
But he does it, and does it with panache.
Even today, he’s like a writing machine and continues to amaze me. With fifty plus novels (I’d almost rather say tomes, some of them are so thick) to his name and pseudonyms, hundreds of short stories, and a handful of non-fiction books, his work ethic and talent are an inspiration. There’s no other writer like him.
When I began writing seriously, I took a look back at his work, not necessarily for subject inspiration (mostly because his stories are indelibly already inked in my psyche), but to see what makes him tick as a writer. I wanted to understand what allowed him to work so fast and so effectively, pumping out novels that resonate in popular culture and with his readers. His On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft has been as much a source of inspiration for me as have Annie and Pennywise.
We see clear evidence in his popularity and sales, some 350 million books, how adept he is at connecting with readers. Why is that? I believe part of his magic lies in a piece of advice he gives other writers, namely that we should write for the pure joy of writing, write for ourselves. He says writing a first draft is “completely raw, the sort of thing I feel free to do with the door shut—it’s the story undressed, standing up in nothing but its socks and undershorts.” He allows himself to feel the writing and those emotions translate onto the page. Readers identify with the genuine quality of King’s writing.
I have always been willing to let him lead me through his imagination, whether I went with him to The Shop or DarkScoreLake. He allows the emotions of his characters to pour forth, the “completely raw” state he refers to, and readers are swept up and along for the ride. In one interview, King states that his books should lunge right across the table and grab you and mess you up. Readers have to be emotionally invested in order for the grab to work, and King accomplishes this with delightful success.
I have great respect for his amazing work ethic. I’ve read countless interviews with Mr. King in which he describes his routine and writing practices. Before his accident, he averaged ten pages per day, and even after, when he was most frustrated with his then-limited physical abilities, he always strove for one thousand words per day. He forces himself to disconnect from the rest of the world when he writes, and encourages other writers to get rid of their televisions. He aims for a first draft to only take three months—even the big ones like The Stand. He’s a firm believer in starting a project and sticking with it through completion with as few interruptions as possible. He’s also a firm advocate of the “kill your darlings” step in editing, which has been a hard lesson for me, but a valuable one.
Throughout his amazing career, he’s never lost sight of what’s important . . . the experience of reading. He talks about his experiences as a child, from reading the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, and then on to Ed McBain novels. He’s never lost the love of reading, and continues to advise writers to read, read, and read some more. Reading is at the heart of every good writer, and Mr. King has maintained that magical connection with his reader by being a reader.
I’ll leave you, dear readers, with that and go grab a well-worn copy of one of Mr. King’s excellent tomes.
Nikki Hopeman’s debut novel, Habeas Corpse, is available from Blood Bound Books on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Her short story, “Black Bird,” can be found in Dark Moon Books’ anthology Mistresses of the Macabre. She loves the kind of horror that leaves her quaking in the back of the closet, the kind that won’t let her close her eyes. Life before writing includes a bachelor’s degree in microbiology, a few years as a veterinary technician, floral arranger, blueberry picker, babysitter, and VW Beetle mechanic. She holds an MFA in writing popular fiction from Seton Hill University. When she’s not writing, she can be found in the tattoo chair or on her Harley Davidson. Nikki shares her home in Pittsburgh with her husband, two sons, two crazy corgis, and an angry hamster. She can be reached at www.nikkihopeman.com or on Twitter @nikkihopeman.